How Do Emotional Support Animals Help With Depression?

The Benefits of Emotional Support Animals for Depression

These days, the most common mental health treatments for depression are psychotherapy, and medical treatments that primarily include antidepressants and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). However, while psychotherapy tends to focus on the patient’s relational and internal dynamics, and medical treatments aim to influence the brain’s neural and chemical functions, the effects of having an available support system can be glossed over. As a result, many patients contending with depressive symptoms that impede their daily functioning find themselves suspended between numbing despair and treatment options whose gradual effects can take time before they are felt.

Depressed woman with a dog

Support animals offer a different form of emotional assistance, with a visceral sense of comfort that can be almost immediately felt. Read on to learn more about this often overlooked form of care, find out how emotional support animals can help with depression, and see what are considered the best emotional support animals for depression.

Emotional Support Animals: Offering Balance and Companionship

Emotional support animals, or ESAs, are animals intended to provide relief from detrimental emotional or mental health conditions. They are also referred to as companion animals. Research has shown that emotional support animals can help with depression.

ESAs have been found to provide a number of mental health benefits to those who care for them, through their ability to cause stress reduction. This has particularly been shown in foreign and stress-inducing settings, such as at the airport or school. Having a familiar animal associated with comfort can aid in assuaging any rising tension upon entering an emotionally threatening scenario. The stability of having one’s ESA around can further promote stress reduction, thereby benefiting overall well-being.

Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals

Animals do not require any special training to be considered an ESA; rather, any animal able to offer such support can be regarded as one. The two most common types of ESAs are dogs and cats.

Service Animals

Unlike ESAs, service animals do require training and an official recognition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Individuals with an official disability covered by the ADA that requires the use of a service animal for their daily functions are eligible for a service animal.

Depression is considered an invisible disability, whose symptoms prevent patients from functioning in one or more central areas of life, such as work, school, etc. As such, cases of depression, where symptoms are so severe they significantly hinder daily functioning in a central area of their life, may qualify the patient experiencing them for a service animal.

In addition to providing emotional support, service animals can remind patients to take their medication, alert others of an emergency, and even recognize concerning pharmacological side effects.

Woman with a dog

Therapy Animals

Therapy animals are similar to emotional support animals, which also offer comfort and emotional support to humans. However, instead of providing emotional stability to their own humans, therapy dogs are trained to offer support to other individuals who are in need of their affection. As a result of their proven mental health benefits, therapy dogs are now being brought into children’s hospital wards, senior citizen homes, hospices, and nursing homes.

Emotional Support Animals for Depression

Dogs are the most commonly used ESAs in cases of depression and are considered the best emotional support animal for depression. Due to their friendly and outgoing nature, certain dog breeds, such as golden retrievers and labradors, have been found to offer relief to patients battling this condition. German shepherds and even smaller breeds, such as chihuahuas, are also relatively common ESAs registered in cases of depression.

Concerns Surrounding ESAs

Having an emotional service animal can make a true difference in the lives of individuals facing a mental health disorder, such as depression, or even plain loneliness. That said, a couple of concerns should be taken into account when considered getting an ESA:

Caring for an ESA

At the end of the day, ESAs are living, breathing creatures that need to be cared for. This means financial expenses, caring for any medical issues that may arise, and tending to their own emotional well-being. For many, the benefits of having a loving ESA around far outweigh the investment they require from their handler. But not everyone has the capacity to care for an animal, and therefore taking one into their home should be seriously considered.